If an MLS team is worth $800 million, I have a bridge to sell you

Try $25 – $50 million. Maybe $100 million for a top one.

More people watch the Little League World Series on TV than the MLS Cup.

Soccer in the U.S. is all frosting, no cake

For development, organized soccer is the frosting. Soccer played at home and in the streets is the cake.

Soccer in the U.S. is all frosting and no cake.

Clubs and coaches did not make Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar or Pulisic, Donovan, Dempsey. Soccer at home and the streets did. Clubs and coaches just put the frosting on the cake.

Common anti-pro/rel in soccer point: “Business people don’t want to invest in pro soccer with the risk of relegation”

Counterpoint: Some won’t. Others will. We want the ones that will, not the ones that won’t.

Who are role models for young soccer players in the US?

In countries with soccer clubs stacked in levels going from the very top to neighborhood clubs, young players entering the organized sport at age 8 are usually coached, or assistant coached, by the 16-18 year old players from the club’s senior ranks.

In such a setup, the young players have natural role models that they interact with every week for 10 months of the year that gives them a line of sight to the type of soccer players the should want to become.

They look up to their young coaches, they want to watch their games on the weekend to see how they play and they want to strive toward playing like them, someday.

This gives those young players a long-term vision of the direction they should be headed that young soccer players in the US do not have.

I was reminded of this recently when I saw a comment on Twitter about youth teams in the US chasing tournament trophies rather than development.

That’s true. Without the vision of how they should be playing by age 15 or so, wins and trophies now are all they have to go by.

Unfortunately, winning can actually have the negative effect of making development tougher as it’s tough to convince the players and parents of winning players that they still have work to do.

When young players have role models, they can win games and still be thinking long-term because they may want to be able to make the club’s senior team someday.

Why are MLS teams worth 10-12x revenue?

The simple answer is that’s what rich folks are willing to pay for them right now.

So, to find out, you’d really need to ask rich folks who have bought MLS teams or portions of MLS teams recently, why they paid so much?

It could be that they figure someone else will be willing to pay them that much or more when they decide to cash out and in the meantime, it’s good for their profile and other business’s to have own a major sports team.

It could be that they hope the value will increase over the next 20 years by a lot. In this sense, the MLS team serves as an option on a future that they hope looks a lot like the NFL.

It could be that there are other things wrapped up in what they paid for, like the value of future franchise fees paid by new MLS owners and/or the value of payouts for the broadcast rights of international games that take place in the U.S.

I suspect that last bit could be a fair amount of the value as the amount for the MLS franchise fees seemed to start going up dramatically soon after US Soccer locked up hosting the World Cup in 2026, which could mean billions in broadcast revenue from international games.

If that’s the case, then the value of an MLS team may have little to do with what owners think the teams might be worth and more to do what they think those things are worth.

If so, that’s a big hoodwink as MLS has been playing up their increasing valuations as a sign that “MLS is growing” when by most measures of true value, like TV ratings and ticket sales, don’t line up with that story.

I also find it strange how few people, including journalists, are interested in exploring this topic. For example, a recent change of ownership stake for the Houston Dynamo valued the franchise at $400 million.

Now anyone who watches any amount of MLS can tell you that a key feature of the Dynamo home games is the empty orange seats in the stands. I’m assuming TV viewership in Houston is not much better. How that can be worth $400 million is a mystery.

“Coach, you need to get the kids to be more aggressive”

I heard that from a grandparent as I walked away from the 2nd game I ever coached, after getting drubbed 6-2 with my team of 1st graders who started kicking the soccer ball about 3 weeks before.

I agreed. It seemed like the other team was all over the ball while we stood there watching.

I was reminded of this when I saw a soccer coach venting on Twitter about this common complaint from parents. He even asked, ‘what does that even mean?’

As someone who started with an untrained eye for soccer, I think I can speak for all the parents and grandparents that say it. It means that it looks like they are ball watching when the opponent is charging the ball. It means winning more 50/50s, closing down attackers quicker, not getting beat on the dribble, not being afraid of some contact and winning more tackles. It means challenging for and winning more balls in the air.

After a couple of years of witnessing this and learning the game, I changed my mind on what was really happening.

Parents and many coaches think it’s just a matter of telling the players to be more aggressive or “Move to the ball!”

But, as a coach, I found that didn’t work.

I had noticed that there were some “aggressive” kids in practice. But, even those kids often seemed less aggressive in games and I wondered why.

Then one week my team got beat 5-1. Our players looked like the less aggressive side.

The next week, we beat another team 5-2 and we looked like the more aggressive team. The parents congratulated me for turning them around in one week. I hadn’t done anything. I forgot to even mention it.

But, I saw something different. I noticed that the time it took for my players to start moving to the ball was the same in both games.

What was different was how quickly the players on the other team moved to the ball. Players on the team that beat us were moving to it faster. The players on the team we beat were moving to it slower.

I happened to know that the first team’s players had been playing soccer for a year longer on average than our kids and the second team a year less.

The more experienced team moved to it quicker in both games.

That made me think that what we mistake as difference in aggressiveness is often really a difference in how fast players can read and react to the ball and that speed is determined largely by how much experience they’ve had with the ball.

I’ve noticed this myself as I learned soccer in my 40s. As I’ve worked with the ball more, I’ve noticed my ‘aggressiveness’ improved because I was simply able to read, react and be thinking about next steps quicker.

The three most important things for a soccer player

Trapping aka First Touch, Receiving

Passing

Dribbling

Are these the only 3 things you need as a soccer player? NO

But, these 3 things are needed to get onto the other stuff.

I do not think you should make it onto competitive team if you don’t have these 3 things. I don’t care how fast you are, how far you can boom the ball, who you can knock down or how great you are at scoring. If you can’t do these 3 things, you will make it tougher for everyone else on the field to learn.

It’s common for youth and HS teams struggle because they have so many players that do not have these three basic competencies and there seems to be no urgency to fix or awareness that it’s a problem.

The good news is anyone can become competent at these things with 6 months of good effort. The sad thing is, there’s no good feedback to encourage it and few do it.

This is a common gripe among coaches I know. They do tell their players to work on it. But, the problem is the players still get to play every week, they get play time and they usually get to play the position that they want, so why should they put in the effort to learn?

The idea that ‘they will figure it out’ if you let them play doesn’t work.

Let me be more specific on these skills.

By trapping, I mean that you should be able to stop a ball with the inside of both feet. Same with passing.

By dribbling, I’m not talking about Leo Messi 1v1 attack dribbling. I’m talking about what I call evasive dribbling. The ability to move and turn with the ball to dribble away from defenders and into space and find a pass. That means basic taps with inside, outside of both feet and pullbacks, to keep the ball close (e.g. one touch on the ball for every step of the right foot), rather than just kicking the ball into space and chasing it.

Again, these aren’t the only skills you will ever need in soccer. But, if you don’t have these, it’s going to be chaos/turnover ball where your key strategy for winning is to hope for good fortune.

The other sad thing is that these are the easiest skills to work on. Players can work on them 365 days a year, in their homes.

The fastest way to get better at trapping and passing is to kick the ball against something. I find that kicking a ball against the base of a couch works just as well as kicking it against a wall or rebounder outside. I also find that kicking tennis balls, size 1 balls or even small foam balls against the wall works. All those build the muscle memory to make you subconsciously competent at these things.

The best way to get better at dribbling is to do it. This can all be done in a small space inside. There are tons of videos out there to give you ideas. Renegade Soccer Training and the Techne app booth offer affordable programs that can also help tremendously and can be done inside.

Even one hour a week over a 6 month period can do wonders.

As a parent or player, here’s a basic test for you: take notice of your turnover ratio in games. If it is less than 70%, there’s work to do.

Also, be aware as you start the work. Watch how the game around you changes from battling for the ball to opening the game up because you become more consistent at being able to hang onto the ball and connect good passes that can really open things up for you offense.

I’ll say it one last time: these aren’t the only things you need. Over time you will want to even advance these skills.

For example, you will want to learn to trap the ball with most of your body parts. You will want to be able to trap the ball dead or first touch in a direction away from pressure.

You will want to be able to dribble past defenders 1v1, which will open the game up even more.

And, you will also want to learn to score, defend, tackle, talk, drive the ball for distance and accuracy and so on. But, without these first three things, you will be struggle to use any of the rest of that to good effect in games because you will be too busy chasing down your turnovers.

Good luck!

Pro/rel should emerge from an open system

As Ted Lasso gets more folks on the promotion/relegation bandwagon for American sports, I think there’s an important point to be made.

The real juice of those systems is their openness. By openness, I mean anybody can start a sports club and enter a team from that club somewhere on the open pyramid. They don’t have to get approval from the other owners of a closed league to do so.

Promotion/relegation then should emerge as the way to slot those clubs into a competitive structure that makes sense based on how good they are, not necessarily how many tickets they sell or how many people watch them on TV in their home market.

I see American soccer moving toward a closed promotion/relegation structure, where there will be promotion/relegation between the closed leagues that still require approval from the other team owners in those leagues to gain entry.

What I predict will happen is that might make things 10-20% more interesting, but it isn’t going to quintuple or 10x support for soccer and then detractors will say, “See, pro/rel doesn’t work!”

But, pro/rel without the openness is like Disneyland without Mickey Mouse, it’s just another blah amusement park to make for an easy weekend get away for the locals, but it isn’t going to draw much beyond that.

Why is openness so important?

Because it encourages competition and trials. It will also result in a fair amount of failures, which opponents of open systems point to as a bug. But, I think it’s a feature. It’s the same feature that helps open markets work.

From those failures, we learn some valuable things, like what doesn’t work. As Edison said for each failed attempt to find a filament material for the light bulb, that was just one more thing they tried that didn’t work. Now they know.

I know that provides no comfort to the players and employees of clubs that fail, but I fail to understand why they should have any more guarantees to their job as the rest of us who work for companies that can and do fail.

On the flip side, allowing such openness also occasionally generates some unexpected successes that you would never discover under a closed system that assumes things like ‘you need at least a market of a million in population to support one team.’

For example, you might discover that a market of a million might be able to support multiple teams and spawn some huge crosstown rivalries. Or, you might find that there’s a few dozen small markets that really, really love the sport that can produce clubs that are wildly successful beyond what the experts thought was too small to work.

Ted Lasso effect

As a card carrying member of the tinfoil hat “pro/rel” soccer club, it’s been interesting to see the impact the TV show Ted Lasso has had on the discussion. It’s a good example of how narrative matters.

For years, I’ve been in the wilderness with about 50 people in the U.S. using abstract terms like promotion/relegation, sporting merit and open pyramids to no persuasive avail. “That’ll never work in the U.S.!” is the most common retort.

But the TV show Ted Lasso comes along and presents the concept in narrative form to viewers, which brings them inside what it means, and gives tangible life to those abstract terms.

Suddenly, “sporting merit” makes more sense to Ted Lasso fans, as they come to understand that it means that how well your team does determines their fate. Not only might they win a trophy, but they might also win their way into the next level of competition and a bigger stage.

Suddenly, I’m seeing more folks say, “That would make soccer and other sports in the U.S. a lot more interesting.”

Owners beware.

Did the US Men’s National Team find a goal scorer in the game against Honduras?

I’ve long noticed that American soccer players aren’t necessarily known for their scoring abilities. This is true in the adult leagues I play in and at the pro level.

I wrote about it here when the top scoring American in the MLS was #12.

It hasn’t changed much since then, but the top American comes in at #5 now and that American is the same one that either scored or helped create all of the US goals against Honduras, in his first appearance with the National Team, Ricardo Pepi. The next American in MLS appears at #10.

Now, granted, folks like Christian Pulisic and Josh Sargent don’t play in the MLS, but…

…they haven’t produced consistent goals for the U.S. Men’s team, either. That is their job.

While they have a good touch, can control the ball and can create some separation, their finishing looks like most American attempts at scoring — wooden, predictable and fairly easy to cover by goalies.

Pepi made it look easy. He has creativity — which means he’s a bit more unpredictable — and can use multiple parts of his body to direct the ball.

I just think it’s strange, but it’s not surprising. We don’t emphasize creative goal scoring in the U.S. We don’t have places for kids to practice it. We ban them from shooting practice before their games and while fields aren’t being used, because we want to protect the precious grass!